In Memoriam

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If you’re like me, dear reader, you are looking forward this weekend to the unofficial start of summer. I, too, am looking forward to the ever-rarer days when we can give our office a day off at the same time. However, over the years, Memorial Day has evolved in the public’s mind from a day of remembrance for those who fell in active duty to our country to a government-accepted “free” day off, a day of hot dogs and swimming and camping trips.

Though military life wasn’t a defining factor of my childhood, I was born on the naval base in Groton, Connecticut while my father was a submariner there. My grandfather was in the National Guard, my brother was in the Coast Guard. Though my grandfather had to stay on the homefront because he was the family’s principal breadwinner in lieu of his disabled father, his brothers served in WWII. My uncle was in the Korean War. Fortunately, many of my loved ones are still with us, but I know that there are many who volunteered to serve our country, or were called to duty to defend us when we needed them, who aren’t with us any longer. Nearly any cemetery, from small family plots to Arlington National, has become the final resting place of a serviceman, whether they were killed during active duty or passed after subjecting themselves to unimaginable dangers protecting us from harm.

It is for these people that we observe Memorial Day.

It is no small thing to agree to serve your country in the military. Military life demands being away from friends and loved ones, learning the unnatural act of killing another human if need be, desensitizing yourself to the horrors of seeing comrades killed or injured (a skill that is nearly impossible for most to learn fully), and rigorous adherence to a chain of command and a regimented existence. Surely no one but those who have served, whether actively in a combat zone or with the constant specter of being sent to active battle hanging over their head, could truly know what the experience is like.

There are many days out of the year that commemorate other people and activities, from the awesome to the frivolous, but I hope that you will take time this weekend to think about the sacrifices of those who put their personal freedom aside to defend the freedoms of all Americans. Even if you are a conscientious or compulsory objector, the sacrifices of these individuals is no doubt something worth honoring and remembering. Somehow, that makes the less solemn activities we’ll enjoy this weekend even more meaningful.

The Best Seats in the House

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One of the joys of working for a theater (and there are a few) is the opportunity to see a variety of wonderful presentations and performances that I would normally have to drive a substantial distance or travel the world to see. The cinematic performances that we offer at Cinema Capitol this year have been one of the highlights of 2015 for me.

Art and I used to drive to Syracuse and back to attend the Metropolitan Opera cinematic offerings there before Cinema Capitol opened its doors. As we were discussing with one of our patrons only yesterday, it is hard to describe the quality and experience offered by these broadcasts. Rather than being a relatively static presentation of a play or opera from a single vantage point, these cinematic tours-de-force offer the equivalent of the best seats in the house. Through wrap-around features and interviews during intermission to camera angles that bring you up close and personal with performers, composers, directors, and production staff, there is no single live ticket that you could by that would give you the sight lines and intimacy afforded by this type of cinema.

The venues that offer the performances use them as an audience development tool. They are essentially making an investment in new technology and ways of presenting works to audiences that provides fertile ground for the growth of new audiences, be they younger audiences or audiences that have acquired a new interest and appreciation for a particular art form. This dedication to the future of the arts helps to ensure that the arts will be there to appreciate far into the future. At the Capitol, even though we are a much smaller organization, we believe strongly in the principle of audience development.

Many people will call the Capitol to ask about the performances that we offer from far-flung places, and sound somehow disappointed that the performance is not somehow miraculously offered live on stage here at the Capitol. There are several reasons that this would be an impossibility.

The first is that, in our community, the range that patrons will pay for tickets is relatively minimal. Even the rock-bottom prices that we are committed to offering for such shows as this weekend’s production of To Kill a Mockingbird by the National Players get raised eyebrows. These shows are certainly not inexpensive to bring to our area, especially when entire companies are brought from across the country or overseas, housed in hotels and offered food and amenities that are in their contracts. This cost would be prohibitive for a theatre with the budget of the Capitol. If you were to attend a Royal Opera House production on their own turf, you would pay upwards of ₤220.00 for similar seating equivalents and sight lines (and that’s in British pounds; in American dollars the exchange would be approximately $335.00 at press time). You can imagine what that cost would entail if we were to ship them here.

Secondly, providing prop storage and dressing room space for a company the size of even the smallest opera would be beyond the current capabilities of the Capitol’s physical plant. Unless they are very close to a major metropolitan area, I know of very few cities with populations of 34,000 that would be able to accommodate such a show, with few exceptions.

Thirdly, the star power of these productions is also out of our reach. Through these productions, you can see stars like Placido Domingo and Natalia Osipova perform live. These are not chances that come every day, especially for the cost of $17 or less.

We offer these programs to our community to broaden horizons, and to offer world-class programming in our small city at a reasonable cost. We have two shining examples of cinematic performances coming in the next 6 weeks: the English National Opera’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, directed by Mike Leigh (director of Mr. Turner, which we offered on film in April, adn the fabulous G&S filmTopsy Turvy) on June 3, 6 & 7 ($12 for adults, $10 for Capitol Friends and students); and the Royal Ballet Live’s enchanting production of La Fille Mal Gardee (The Wayward Girl), June 10 & 14 ($17 for adults, $15 for Capitol Friends and students). Before thinking that they are inferior to a live performance, make sure you attend one. You may be surprised to discover what the world has to offer in your own backyard.

The Birthday Girl

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As I write this, I am sitting under a heat bonnet at Unique Salon getting a brand new ‘do. Karin has been after me for months to do some fun color; she knows me pretty well by now, and know that in my heart I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. Finally, on my birthday, I’ve decided to take her up on it and do something fun.

I hear from people all the time who don’t want a big deal made of their birthdays, who let them go by like they are just another day. I don’t know whether it is about getting old or being made a fuss of, but I do know that I am just the opposite. My birthday is an excuse for big doin’s, as they say, and I arrive at April 30th every year ready to jump out of bed and take it on.

My day usually begins with a brief perusal of my Facebook birthday wishes (Facebook is quite good for reminding people that their friends are celebrating [or not celebrating, as it were] a birthday), then the long-standing Pierce tradition, since before I met Art and even before I was born: the presentation of a milkshake in bed. Much more exciting than breakfast in bed! I figure that, since I’ll never be a mother and there is no Auntie’s day, I get one day of the year all to myself, to celebrate my existence and find an excuse to do things that I’ve wanted to do but couldn’t justify.

My day today includes a stop at Unique Salon, a massage at Zensations, lunch with my mother, several personal fun errands I had been putting off because they didn’t seem adult enough, a final installment of yard work to eliminate a particularly prickly bramble bush, birthday dinner someplace yet to be determined, and watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy at Cinema Capitol. Oh, and probably several more checks of Facebook birthday wishes!

This year I turn the big 3-5, an age that might concern the faint of heart who are just arriving there (though all of you dear readers who have passed this milestone know that it’s just a number in the great scheme of things). There is something about the middle 30s that makes youngsters re-assess where they are in life. Though I am not afraid to age, I have always been well aware of my rate of accomplishment. While I know I won’t light the world afire with my spectacular achievements, I sometimes lament to Art that I haven’t necessarily achieved the things that my rosy-cheeked early 20s would have had me do. Fortunately, he is there to remind me that not only have I been key in making great strides at the Capitol and for the city, I still have a good number of years ahead of me to do great things. There are many parts of my life worth celebrating. I’m a great Auntie and cat companion, I am funny and affable, I can ride horses “better than [I] think” according to my riding instructor, I can knit up a storm and sew fairly well. I am special, unique, and definitely worth celebrating one day a year.

Whether you celebrate your birthday or not, I’m sure there are aspects of your life that warrant celebration, even if it is of the quiet sort. Your job, the family you helped create, your marriage, your skills at gardening, cooking, or any other area. You are most likely famous among your family or circle of friends for something if you think about it. This year I challenge you to find something to celebrate about yourself. Even if you celebrate quietly, by yourself, without telling anyone. I’ll blow out a candle for you.

The Death (?) of a Trumpet Vine

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Ah, spring. The season with the most promise for new ideas and projects, a time for recommitting ourselves to our outdoor endeavors and making things fresh and new. It’s also a time for growing and improving. Sometimes that growing and improving involves a little bit of plant carnage.

I was fortunate to be off from work yesterday, not particularly because I didn’t have to work (which is nice, too), but because my day off actually corresponded with nice weather, which probably occurs about as often as Halley’s Comet. When this rarest of events occurs, I have a protocol in which I review my to-do list, taking into account activities which need to be done outdoors, then I have to evaluate those results based on which tasks could get out of hand the most quickly. In this case, my obvious priority was the trumpet vine.

The saga of the trumpet vine is a long one. Art and I will have been married 10 years this November, and before that he took care of his mother, who was ill, for several years. She had planted the trumpet vine during a time when she was active in doing things around the house, training it around a metal pole and gradually letting the early stems grow so robust that they were like small trees wrapped around each other. Unfortunately, even shortly before Art and I met, she was unable to keep it in check. Because of this, the trumpet vine, lovely but supremely invasive, had free rein over our house. It ran roughshod over our lawn, crept into the foundation, choked other plants, and generally wreaked substantial havoc in our little biosphere.

I am ashamed to say it (because I am not a murderous person), but I have plotted to kill the vine for several years. The only thing keeping me from doing so was the herculean effort that it was going to involve. Not only was there the vine-cum-tree to deal with, but also the myriad runners that were travelling through the ground day by day, cropping up in strange and faraway places. I knew it would be a multi-part process with lots of difficult chopping and digging. Because of this, my perfectionist brain routinely felt overwhelmed.

Something has changed in me this year, however. After a very trying early 2015, I have decided that nothing in life can really be all-or-nothing, and I woke up yesterday eager to start the process of dismantling the vine. After running a few errands in the morning, I took myself to the garage and armed myself for battle. Surprisingly, I completed “Phase 1″ (the elimination of the largest part of the vine) in only two hours. This supposedly epic task, which I had placed on hold (aside from routine maintenance) for nearly ten years, had taken me the same amount of time as a long afternoon nap.

As I stood back to admire my handiwork, a sense of calm came over me. I knew that the war was not yet won, and that there would be other days when I fought back the vine’s insurgents elsewhere in the yard, but I had won for the present. If I can continue to spend as much time doing as I do worrying and planning, I might make progress yet.

Shelter from the “Storm”

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Well, we all made it through February relatively unscathed. Weather records tells us that last month was the coldest month on record for Rome. Not just the coldest February; the coldest month. Let that sink in. That’s a pretty impressive feat, considering that they began measuring temperatures in 1857!

Weather can be like that. Awesome and impressive, sometimes scary. That’s mother nature for you. Any force that can bring hurricanes, tornados, volcanos, earthquakes, humongous sinkholes, the Northern Lights, Tsunamis, flash floods, and the like is a force that is not to be taken lightly. At times it is perfectly appropriate to be impressed and awed by our planet.

Shock and awe is something that our culture thrives on. Everywhere you turn (and I am guilty of this, too) people attribute words like “awesome” to everyday, slightly surprising occurrences. (Comedian Eddie Izzard has a hilarious routine about it; any joke that compares the “awesomesness” of a tasty hot dog with the true awesomeness of the cosmos is worth laughing about!)

It seems we have traded true, breathtaking awesomeness and magnitude for the figurative, and are now expected to respond in kind to this erroneous moniker. No where is this more evident than in the evolution of the weather report. When I was young, the weather report was pretty straightforward. Temperature; wind (or not); rain, sun, or cloud cover; and when it all was predicted to happen. It came on with the news at finite times (morning, night, and late night, on the hour on the radio) and that was it. It didn’t tell us how to act, it didn’t try to dictate our lives. It assumed that the average adult was smart enough to interpret the weather for themselves and their families. It’s raining? Said adult would be sure to grab and umbrella and wear a raincoat. It’s cold? Hat, gloves, muffler, and warm coat. Very cold? Try to get through your day without being outside much. And what’s more, said adult, if they had made the wrong decision and realized it once they were out, would alter their course and respond appropriately. End of story.

These days, weather is constantly available, on every news website. What’s more, there is a disturbing fear-mongering trend in weather reporting, and coupled with our society’s insistence that everyone be absolutely never at risk EVER just in case there might be some sort of litigious liability, it has created a monster. Every 2-3 inches of perfectly logical wintertime precipitation is now a “winter storm,” complete with a catchy name so we can remember the minimal dusting that it brought us. Every cold day is suddenly too cold to function, closing schools sometimes days in advance. Politicians are telling people something they should be able to decide for themselves: Don’t leave the house! It is much too cold for any living thing to be out!

Forgive the expression, but I feel that not only is this movement an awful lot of bunk, but potentially damaging in an area where tourism provides a large portion of the much-needed income for our communities, and where commerce still has to continue regardless of temperature. I am not that old, but even I can remember growing up at the base of Tug Hill and frequently getting copious amounts of snow. We shovelled out and got on with our lives. If it was cold, we bundled up. If it was not that nice out we drove slow. If it was truly bad, we, as cognizant humans, would decide on the appropriate action. No one needed to tell us what to be afraid of and how to act.

I am hopeful that we as a population haven’t lost our ability to make good decisions from the information given, based on logic and common sense. I say, if you hear a weather report, want to go skiing and think you can comfortably do so, do it! If you want to bundle up for the three minutes that you are outside and drive slowly to a movie or dinner, do it! Your local businesses, which thrive on your patronage, will be glad that you decided to think for yourself.

The Un-Lunch

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My grandmother turned 90 this past July. That is, as I would say and often do, an awful lot of livin’. She is a wise, sassy, funny, mischievous, lovely imp of a lady when she is at her best. I thoroughly enjoy spending time with her.

I made a decision–well, had a revelation, really–earlier this year that I was prioritizing the little nagging things in my life over spending time with the people I love, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. I would look around at all the things that remained undone and feel the pressure of guilt, which would motivate me to try to make a dent in them, even when I had the opportunity to spend time with family, primarily because it was the thing that silently shouted at my psyche. I felt like a bad wife and a lazy person, which I know isn’t really true, but winter is a complicated time for those with depression.

My mother and I had taken a day to go visit my grandmother a few weeks ago, and we had a lot of fun. My grandmother still lives where I grew up (most people call it “snow country”), and we arrived in the midst of a flurry of activity. It seems that, in its exodus from the metal roof, a large avalanche of snow had taken the chimney of the wood stove along with it, and a new pellet stove had been purchased as a replacement. All the men were hovering around in clumps, looking official, many trying to do as little work as possible but still look busy. My grandmother was in good spirits. Winter gets pretty lonely when it’s winter and you don’t have a lot of mobility, and an opportunity like this to have people around is not to be sneezed at, especially for a formerly social butterfly. Her hearing and vision are also gradually waning, so it can be a quiet, dark, lonely existence at times.

I decided that day that I would spend at least one of my days off per week spending time with her. I called the day before my first Thursday off, and offered to take her to lunch at Cracker Barrel (her favorite), a chance at which she jumped immediately. The next day dawned very cold, and I called her to let her know I would be a little later than I expected because I wanted to give Art a ride to work so he wouldn’t be out in the freezing weather. “We can cancel if you want to. It’s awful cold,” she said. I assured her that we were still on, that I was just running late, and that she should get gussied up for a day out.

When I arrived at her house, her back was to me and she was making a slice of peanut butter toast. She also looked decidedly non-gussied up. In fact, she was wearing her comfiest house-clothes and looked ready for a nap. I touched her shoulder and she looked at me with surprise. “I thought we cancelled,” she said. I laughed. “That was your idea,” I said. She looked crestfallen, and I knew I would have to act fast. “Do you still want to go out or should we stay in?” I asked. “Let’s stay in,” she said. So we did, and we had the best time. We had tea and reminisced, made some future plans for the house and the spring, caught up on each other’s news, and just enjoyed spending time together.

We often feel that occasions have to be special or planned to be most successful. With the ones we love, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s ok to let your expectations go once in a while and play it by ear. Who knows, you may find you’re making more memories than you thought.

The Snow Angel

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Ah, winter. Cloaked in white, sparkling in the sunlight, crunchy underfoot. If I had my druthers, I would sit in the library in a big comfy sweater with a nice cup of cocoa and gaze at it through the window.

Unfortunately, I can’t. Wintertime does not mean vacation time, and work still has to be done. People still have to go places, work hours, and run errands from warm(ish) car to cold air to warm store to cold air to warm(ish) car. And they generally have to do all of the brushing off (sometimes multiple times per day), and shoveling out that allows them to venture out into the world to fight the good fight.

At Pierce house, we live a one-shovel existence. We have no plow service or snowblowing capabilities. Art has his trusty snow shovel, and when the snow just keeps coming, the driveway gets narrower and narrower and the shed roof starts to leak from the accumulated snow. Were we 9-to-5 people, it would probably be feasible to keep up with the snow. But we are 8-6 people. Or 10-9:30 people. Or cram-everything-that-doesn’t-involve-work-into-the-one-partial-day-you’ll-have-off-this-week people. On occasion, we are all day and into the next morning people. Often, with long hours the shoveling falls by the wayside until it becomes such a problem that Art sacrifices sleep to take care of it.

One weekend day when our shifts started later than usual, Art went out to feed the animals and survey the snow scene. He returned inside looking somewhat bemused. One of our neighbors had come by our house and snowblowed our driveway. We had a Snow Angel. And he wore a yellow coat.

What a sweet and generous act. Though Art grew up in the house that we live in, and some of our neighbors have remained consistent, for the most part we and our neighbors have a wave-to-each other relationship, a ‘hi’ on the way to the car relationship. Not an ‘I’m going to bundle up and stay outdoors in the chilly temperatures even longer so that I can do a nice thing for someone I don’t know that well’ relationship. We all kept relatively to ourselves.

Because the Snow Angel was out of sight by the time Art returned outdoors, we weren’t sure who it was. I have visions of leaving a tray of cookies on every porch in the hopes of saying thank you to the right neighbor (and maybe encouraging others to pay some good deeds forward), but that seemed illogical. So we thanked him to each other and in our hearts and went on with our day.

Later that day and into the next, the Snow Angel continued to surprise us with a clean driveway. One night, we left work for home fairly late, musing whether the snow plow might have come by and how hard we would have to work to clear away the jam at the end of the driveway. We returned home to find a perfectly passable driveway opening, courtesy of the Snow Angel.

Snow Angel, if you are reading this, I know you didn’t feel you needed any recognition, but your kindness certainly means the world to us. Thank you for being the type of person for whom good deeds are a way of life, not a chance to be recognized. I can promise that if you come forward, you will get the biggest plate of cookies you’ve ever seen.